CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- Hurricane Irma left a trail of devastation across the Caribbean and one area man found himself right in the middle of it in the Virgin Islands.
This vacation is a trip he'll never forget, but not because it was peaceful and relaxing. It's because he escaped the hurricane alive. He arrived home early Wednesday morning.
A year-and-a-half ago, Mark Ballard and his friends started planning their annual vacation. This time they chose the Caribbean, but they weren't prepared for what would meet them when they got there.
"We'll have a great view of the cruise bay. We're thinking it'll be a nice week to just chill out with friends, sit by the pool and go to the beach."
All things you would expect on a Caribbean vacation. But what was supposed to be a peaceful trip to the Virgin Islands turned into the exact opposite and what Mark Ballard and his friends went through was the last thing they ever expected.
"All of the locals kept assuring us that for the last 30-years the storms would come toward the island and then turn north. They hadn't had a hurricane in 30-years and they weren't anticipating having another one."
They were wrong and they weren't ready for the hurricane about to come their way.
"The island was nowhere close to being prepared. Up until a couple hours before it actually hit, they were saying it's still going to turn north."
But nature had a mind of its own, and set course right in their direction. Tragedy struck the Virgin Islands; its name was Hurricane Irma.
"It was just chaos. Truly chaos. We would talk to people who lost their home completely. We were talking to this one woman who couldn't find her family, they got separated. There were vacationers, like us, who just had no idea what to do."
Fortunately, one of the resorts had a way off the island.
"There was a rescue boat that's going to be leaving in 45 minutes."
They only had room for 150 people, so they had to leave all their belongings behind. With Ballard and his friends on board, they took them to safety in Puerto Rico.
Ballard says even though he left the island with just the shirt on his back, he's just grateful he lived to tell his story.
He says even the police and fire departments on the island weren't prepared to take on this type of damage and they were left scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Jose to hit just days after Irma ripped through the islands.